Divided world is failing Covid challenge, UN chief warns

Liam Coleman
·2-min read
UN chief Antonio Guterres has warned that millions of people are at risk of poverty throughout the Covid-19 crisis. (United Nations / @antonioguterres)
UN chief Antonio Guterres has warned that millions of people are at risk of poverty throughout the Covid-19 crisis. (United Nations / @antonioguterres)

The secretary general of the UN has warned that more than 100 million people could be forced into poverty and hunger due to a lack of international “unity” throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

Former Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres, who has been in office since 2017, said he feels far more could have been done if countries had worked closer together to fight the deadly virus.

As part of an appeal to mark International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Mr Guterres, 71, said the pandemic marks a “double crisis” for the poorest people in the world.

He said women are at the greatest risk as they are more likely to lose their jobs and are “less likely to have social protection.”

Mr Guterres’ native country was praised for its early lockdown throughout the first wave of the virus, but last week it registered its highest daily number of new cases since the pandemic began (2,072).

Current Prime Minister António Costa announced new restrictions for the first time in over a month, limiting gatherings to five people and seeking parliamentary approval for compulsory mask wearing in all public spaces.

Speaking to Portuguese news agency Lusa, Mr Guterres said: "The Covid-19 pandemic is a major global challenge for the entire international community, for multilateralism and for me, as secretary-general of the United Nations.

"Unfortunately it is a test that, so far, the international community is failing."

Mr Guterres said that if coordinated measures were not taken, "a microscopic virus could push millions of people into poverty and hunger, with devastating economic effects in the years to come".

Speaking in a video posted online earlier on Saturday, he described how the poorest people in the world are at highest risk from Covid-19.

“First, they have the highest risk of exposure to the virus, and least access to quality healthcare,” he said.

“Second, recent estimates show the pandemic could push up to 115 million people into poverty this year – the first increase in decades.

"Women are at greatest risk because they are more likely to lose their jobs, and less likely to have social protection,” He added.

The UN chief has called for “strong collective action” and has asked governments to accelerate economic transformation by investing in sustainable recovery.

He said: “Joining together in common cause is the only way we will emerge safely from this pandemic.”

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